Superphénix (Part 3)

This post is the final of three parts on the history of France’s fast breeder Superphenix reactor, now in the fifteenth year of its decommissioning phase (see Part 1 & Part 2). What follows is a translation of a blog post at GEN4 - Les 4 Vérités du Nucléaire.
This post goes into some detail about the ongoing problems with decommissioning of this reactor that had its life cut short in 1998 after numerous technical problems, dangerous incidents, and political conflict over national energy policy.
The story of the Superphenix is relevant today because the promise of fast breeder reactors and the closed fuel cycle is always being reborn, like a mythical, amnesiac Phoenix itself. Promoters hope the present generation has missed the lessons of all the dangerous mishaps, wasted national treasure, and ongoing decommissioning dilemmas related to fast breeder reactors.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out that the main flaw with fast breeder technology is that it makes an unreasonable bet that future generations will be able to manage the waste products, which are still substantial, regardless of what is said about the reactors’ ability to “burn them up.” For the UCS, the problem is that this technology does… “not satisfy the fundamental ethical principle for the disposal of nuclear waste: intergenerational equity.”
If a nation one hundred years from now could not or did not want to maintain its fast breeder reactors, the promised closed fuel cycle would no longer exist. The country would suddenly have a massive waste and decommissioning problem to deal with. This could be horrific enough for a future society ravaged by war, environmental damage or economic decline, but the story of the Superphenix illustrates that it’s enough of a nightmare when it happens just a few years after the reactor goes on line, and the society that manages the decommissioning is the same relatively competent and prosperous society that built it.

Translation of a blog post at GEN4 - Les 4 Vérités du Nucléaire,
August 2013

The fire reported last night in the former Superphenix reactor occurred in heating ducts meant, according to l’ASN, to recover 5,000 tons of sodium which was used to cool the core of the fast breeder reactor that was shut down in 1998. You may wonder what is going on with this damn sodium at Creys-Malville, 15 years later? Here are some  answers.

August 8, 2013, fire breaks out in the facility for recovering sodium.

Last night around 19:00, the ASN (1) Rhone-Alps division announced that a fire had affected the installation holding sodium at the site of the decommissioning of the Superphenix fast breeder reactor (2). The primary circuit of the reactor was slowed in 1998 after numerous technical and financial problems led to its closure.
The fire would have been delicate to handle because sodium fires are particularly devious, corrosive and toxic, so much so that a specialized sodium fire response course was created at Cadarache in the 1970s, requiring 250 hours of training for firefighters. 

The important question: solid or liquid sodium?

We already discussed this question in relation to a fire at the Monju (Japan) fast breeder reactor in May 2013. In that case also it was very difficult to have a precise idea of the gravity of the fire because the information available about such fires, regardless of the country providing it, is always fragmentary and incomplete (3).
It is necessary to keep in mind that sodium, in order to circulate in the pipes, must be kept heated to its melting point of 100° C. If the sodium solidifies or gels, it stops circulating (4) and makes it very difficult to restart circulation. It is impossible to drain the sodium if it is not in a liquid state, and so it must be constantly heated to its melting point (5).
In 2006, EDF (Electricité de France) (6) announced that the drainage of the sodium cooling circuit would be complete in 2013 and all risk from it would be eliminated. Today this doesn’t seem to be the case. The fire seems to have been limited to a piece of equipment designed to heat and reheat the sodium so that it can be isolated in small quantities, deactivated and placed in thousands of concrete blocks (7). However, Le Monde Diplomatique reports that the operations are not going well – obviously not, according to the plan of 2006.

Sodium still stored in liquid state 15 years after the supposed “shutdown” of the installation?

In this article that deserves a more detailed analysis, the journalist points out notably that sodium is still stored in liquid form in its primary containment which has a temperature of 180° C. In order deactivate it without causing a fire, EDF collects it in small amounts (150 kg?). An article appeared in Le Canard enchaîné in August 2011 stating that 5,000 tons of sodium were still being heated at that time. The article noted the irony that the operation consumes vast quantities of electricity.

Sodium, a doubly dangerous metal

Beyond the non-negligible chemical risks that it presents, the sodium that is stored now in ad hoc containment is radioactive after having flowed some eleven years in the primary circuit of the reactor. Why? Simply because of the same phenomenon of neutron activation that creates new isotopes and new elements in the presence of nuclear fission. It is thus that the stable isotope Fe-54 gains a neutron and becomes radioactive Fe-55. Likewise for Cobalt, Chrome, Silver, Nickel, and Manganese which are used in various parts which come into contact with the reactor core. Some of the cooling water used in light water reactors becomes Carbon-14 (8) and Tritium (H-3) (9).
Radioactive sodium is formed by the activation of the stable isotope Na-23 + neutron = Na-24, an isotope which decays quickly (half life: 5 hours) to Mg-24, a stable element. Thus the radioactivity of sodium is almost completely gone in two or three days. But it’s not so simple. Actually, during the cooling process, other elements, highly radioactive ones, are created and mixed into the liquid sodium (10).

The fuel, 15 tons of Plutonium-239, still stored in proximity to the sodium hazard

We must remember that 15 tons of Plutonium-239, placed in the SPX reactor in 1984 are still kept in close proximity to the turbine building where the “de-sodiumization” process is carried out. Knowing that this quantity of Pu-239 could, in the case of a fire or explosion, spread a billion lethal doses (11), we can say this is like storing explosives and matches side by side.


(1)        Rhône-Alpes regional office of the French regulatory agency Autorité de Sureté Nucléaire.
(2)        Decommissioning is an unfortunate neologism. Demolition would have been sufficient, but the connotations might be critically important.
(3)        Since the 1950s there have been nine nuclear installations of this type and they have all had accidents or fires.
(4)        That is, if the temperature goes below 97° C.
(5)        The enormous thermal constraints linked to the phase change would break a part of the sodium circuits.
(6)        As operator of the site, EDF was found to be responsible for the decommissioning.
(7)        There are to be 38,000 containers holding 5,500 tons of sodium, so 150 kg of sodium per container.
(8)        O-13 gains 1 neutron to become N-14 (stable) which gains a neutron (cool double effect!) to become C-14, emitting one proton.
(9)        Lithium-6 + Neutron => Lithium-7 => Helium-4 + Helium-3 or again by ternary fission of boric acid used often in reactors.
(10)     The metal coolant strains the metal circuits and ends up incorporating their active elements: Fe-56, Co-60...
(11) Lethal dose of  Pu-239: 50 micrograms.


Superphénix (Part 2)

Part 2 of the postings about the Superhpenix reactor focuses on the protests against it during its construction (Links to Part 1 and Part 3). Relative to antinuclear movements in other countries, the opposition was massive. No other country before or after this time ever experienced 60,000 protesters coming out to occupy the proposed site of a nuclear reactor.
The opposition was remarkable also because it sparked a low-grade insurgency against the machinery and installations involved in construction. This campaign culminated in a rocket attack against the reactor vessel--before it was loaded with fuel. The translations below tell the story of Chaïm Nissim, the man who confessed to the crime twenty-one years later after the statute of limitations had expired.
For a short time this news shocked French and Swiss society. The French electrical utility and the nuclear establishment wanted to pursue all possible options for making him pay for the crime. Nissim had been an elected member of Swiss parliament for the Green Party, and suddenly they and the antinuclear movement wanted nothing to do with him. No one could afford to be associated with illegal methods of protest, regardless of the fact that the rocket attacks had been carefully planned to avoid harm to people.
Curiously, this worst ever attack against a nuclear installation was quickly forgotten. The electrical utilities and the nuclear industry in general must have realized there was nothing to gain in bringing more attention to the fact that someone had once successfully launched a bazooka attack against a nuclear plant. The less said the better. Nor would they want to give him a platform for raising questions about when one might be justified in destroying property that one believes poses a catastrophic threat to the environment nature. The Greens and The Left wanted to forget about him too. He published a memoir but it seems to have not sold well.

Le Nouvel Observateur, July 31, 2007
by Robert Marmoz

Vital Michalon, a 31-year-old doctor, died on July 31, 1977 while protesting the construction of the Superphenix nuclear power plant in Creys-Malville. His family and the organization Sortir du nucléaire held a gathering in his memory.

The family of Vital Michalon and the group Sortir du nucléaire organized a gathering at Faverges (Isere) on Wednesday July 31, 3 PM, at the very location where the young antinuclear protester lost his life. He died thirty years ago while protesting the construction of the Superphenix nuclear power plant in Creys-Malville. One hundred people attended.
On July 31, 1977, in a misty rain and fog, some 60,000 protesters attempted to converge on the site where the state intended to construct this nuclear power plant. Severely repressed, the protest was terminated by the death of Vital Michelon, a 31-year-old physician in training. His lungs were destroyed by the deflagration of one of the offensive grenades which the security forces had made liberal use of. Another protester lost a leg, while a security officer was injured when a grenade exploded in his hand.

One of the final gasps of May 1968

The outcome of this protest, the most important against a nuclear installation, had severely traumatized a generation of militants who had lived through it as one of the last gasps of the protests of May 1968. The number of protesters, and the magnitude of their mobilization did nothing to slow down government plans, as the Superphenix was constructed and connected to the grid in 1986. However, this prototype fast-neutron reactor, which had for a long time crystallized antinuclear opposition, never functioned properly. Over nine years, it was in service only for ten months. In 1997, the government of Lionel Jospin, of which Dominique Voynet was the minister of the environment, terminated the Superphenix experience. Since then the dismantling of the reactor has progressed, but it won’t be complete until 2023.

Translation by WISE-Paris
of an article in Swissinfo, May 8, 2003

In 1982, Chaïm Nissim shot with a bazooka at the nuclear power station of Creys-Malville, France, then under construction. As the statute of limitations has passed, the former representative of the Green party in the Geneva cantonal government (until 2001) confessed to the attack in the mass media.
Aged 32 at the time, the environmental activist fired two missiles at the nuclear power station, missing his goal, the center of the plant, only by a hair’s breadth. Thus, there would have been a delay in construction work of two years, said Nissim in interviews with the western Swiss papers Le Courrier and Le Temps.
According to Nissim, it was a small group of opponents of the fast breeder Superphenix, who had the idea of the attack in 1977. Nissim was a member of this group.
The largest difficulty for the anti-nuclear activists consisted of the acquisition of the weapon, said Nissim. At first, the group approached Swiss radical left-wing groups. This led to contacts with German terrorists, Chaïm Nissim explained in a manuscript.
It had been a problem to convince the terrorists to give them the bazooka “without having to give them anything in return, which they could have used for a purpose we could not support,” the former local councilor said to Le Courrier. The common aim to weaken the “military and industrial complex to which Malville also belonged” eventually convinced the terrorists to grant assistance “free of charge.”
Thanks to the Germans’ goodwill, Chaïm Nissim had been able to get hold of a Soviet bazooka and several missiles in Brussels in September 1981. A few months later, on 18th January 1982, from the ruins of an old castle, the radical activist fired at the plant.

Le Temps, Geneva, May 8, 2003 by Sylvain Besson

The former Green member of parliament Chaïm Nissim reveals the mystery behind the attempt, in 1982, to strike the French Superphenix nuclear power plant.

The most difficult time in the life of Chaïm Nissim was perhaps the hours passed one evening in 1981 in a sordid Turkish café in Brussels. The young thirty-year-old had driven alone from Switzerland, and he wondered if the journey would end in prison. That evening he planned to take delivery of a Russian rocket launcher, furnished by Belgian members of Cellules Communistes Combattantes (CCC). He planned to use it to attack the nuclear complex under construction in Creys-Malville, 50 kilometers from Geneva.
Today, Chaïm Nissim is 53, and he was a member of the Swiss parliament for the Green party for 14 years. The memory of the meeting in the café haunts him still. In fact, it became so hard to carry that this pater familias, resembling a rustic version of Woody Allen, decided to confess to Le Temps his biggest secret: it was he who, on January 18, 1982, fired five shape-charged rockets at the Creys-Malville reactor. Swiss and French investigators tried for twenty years to solve the mystery surrounding this attack, the most spectacular ever staged against a nuclear reactor in Europe.
Snatches of the truth about the attack started to emerge in 1994: a document removed from the archives of the Hungarian secret service indicated that the operation was led by the terrorist group of Illitch Ramirez Sanchez, alias Carlos [the Jackal], one of the most infamous terrorists ever known. Shortly thereafter, in Switzerland, the Public Ministry led by Carla Del Ponte arrested three people, one of which was Olivier de Marcellus, today an organizer of the anti-G8 protest set for June 1st. Five years later, the inquiry into the “friends of Carlos” was classified, without revealing anything further about the rocket attack, nor about the activities of the Carlos group in Switzerland.
In the unpublished manuscript which Le Temps was able to read, Chaïm Nissim tells this story, revealing that the Carlos group was merely an auxiliary in the operation. The other participants in the operation are not identified. Chaïm Nissim is the first to speak, and his avowal makes him visibly nervous. He fears the reactions of his friends. He hesitates and fears, as he did in 1982, that he would be seen as a “pathetic clown, a ridiculous fool.” But he no longer wants to live in silence about his clandestine life as a militant who “carries out attacks by night, and protests in front of parliament in the evening.”

Instructions for saboteurs behind enemy lines

In his tranquil house in Versoix, the former Green member of parliament brought out a box full of old antinuclear journals, dating mostly from 1976. That year, he participated in a militant cell that organized rallies aimed at disrupting the construction of the nuclear power plant. The ambiance, in the beginning amicable, degenerated in July 1977. A protester was killed by the police, while two others lost limbs.
A clandestine group formed around Chaïm Nissim, alias “Manolo,” and around ten other militants who have been identified only by their pseudonyms: “Max,” the mechanic, “Chloe,” the mother of the family, “Antonio,” the anarchist-burglar. Aided by a Swiss Army manual entitled Instructions for Saboteurs Behind Enemy Lines, they dynamited electrical pylons, blew up machinery, and torched an office used by engineers.
The low intensity conflict around Creys-Manville was conceived to harm no one but cause maximum damage to property. Mr. Nissim explains in his manuscript, “We wanted to commit to action, register our rejection of the plant, and stop it if we could. And yet there was also the romanticism of clandestine action, a magnificent dream. How could a small group save the world?  Comparing the violence we had avoided with that of Malville [the fast breeder Superphenix reactor site] which could have killed a million citizens in the Rhône-Alpes region, our action could be called non-violent.”
The group passed long hours in a ruined building with a view of the Superphenix reactor. This was where the idea took hold to put an explosive in the heart of the power plant to damage the most vital component [the reactor vessel] and delay the project by two years.
The small band, viewed itself as the armed branch of Gaia, or Earth Mother, fighting against the cold monster of technology. It wanted to “with love, delicately place a tiny grain of salt in the weak spot of nuclear power.” This would give birth to a “mild and organic counter-power.”
The realization of the project took time: the first trials carrying explosives by radio-controlled planes ended in failure. But the group had contacts. They met with an “autonomous” person from Zurich with radical leanings named “le Chef.” He had a more moderate friend, Olivier de Marcellus, who would serve as intermediary for several months between the ecological dreamers from Geneva and the Carlos group.
Chaïm Nissim said, “We knew only fifteen years later whom we were dealing with. We received typewritten letters, with no distinctive marks, but peppered with Leninist terminology. They asked us about our commitment to serve the international proletariat. Our concern was that we needed to receive the rocket launchers without having to return the favor, without being obliged to help them later.”

J Day

At the time of these dealings, Chaïm Nissim met a well-dressed man who always wore gloves in order to leave no fingerprints. It was Johannes Weinrich, or “Steve,” a close lieutenant of Carlos… Finally, the rocket launchers and munitions were brought to Brussells by an intermediary of the CCC, a Belgian terrorist group accompanied for the occasion by a consultant with a Slavic accent – perhaps a Russian soldier – who explained the workings of the hardware to the ecologist from Geneva. The attack took place the night of January 18, 1982. Chaïm Nissim, alone the whole time, fired five rockets, two of which fell inside the still open dome of the power plant. One of the projectiles came very close to hitting the reactor [under construction at the time and not loaded with fuel]. The Superphenix reactor was completed, but it was closed in 1998 after having functioned for only 174 days during ten years of operation.
From his era, Chaïm Nissim, who is participating now in the preparation for the anti-G8 protests of June 1st, draws lessons for the “alterglobalists” of the present day. First, “revolutionary violence,” that which kills, benefits no one, as he witnessed in the failures of groups like CCC and Carlos. But he says mild sabotage should be done, with measure. The ecologist detects among certain anti-globalization militants the same ferment of hatred and exclusion that he saw among certain “autonomous” radicals in his era. For the G8, he advocates the use of sit-ins, to the exclusion of all other direct action. This is without a doubt what is called learning lessons from history.

Other sources:

Interview with Chaïm Nissim on this TV broadcast (French)


Superphénix (Part 1)

(These links go to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)
In recent blog posts I’ve written about new attempts to resurrect the failed technology of fast breeder reactors. Much of this promotion is happening in an atmosphere of ignorance and amnesia regarding the contentious battles of the past that led to the slow, painful death of fast breeder projects in various countries. France’s experience with its Superphenix project is an excellent way to learn about the failures and dangers of fast breeder reactors because this project was met with a level of opposition that did not exist in other countries that attempted to develop the same technology.

It is common knowledge that France is one of the most nuclear dependent nations in the world, deriving 80% of its electricity from nuclear. This might lead some to the false conclusion that the French populace passively endorsed this policy. In fact, France has arguably had the most active and well-informed antinuclear movement in the world. The fact that the government went ahead with its massive buildup of nuclear energy is proof of what a military-industrial complex can do when it is determined to advance its dangerous agenda without the broad consent of its citizens.
The site of the Superphenix reactor was once occupied in 1977 by 60,000 protesters who were met with violent resistance from the state. Many were injured, one protester died, two lost limbs, and one police officer lost a hand to his own grenade. In spite of the opposition, construction went ahead until the plant was completed in 1984. It produced electricity for only eleven years, and during much of that time it was offline. Over its entire lifetime, from construction to the present stage of dismantling, it is said to have consumed more electricity than it ever produced. In 1997, it was shut down because of repeated failures, runaway costs, safety concerns and political opposition.
During construction, a small radical cell carried out several attacks against electrical towers and construction equipment. For their final act, they used a shoulder mounted rocket launcher to attack the power plant, and came within inches of striking the reactor vessel. When the statute of limitations was up in 2003, the perpetrator confessed and wrote a book about it. He had been an elected representative of the Green Party in Switzerland in the intervening years. This part of the story is little known outside of France and Switzerland, but it is a cautionary tale for present day nuclear operators who worry about vulnerability to terror attacks.

The story of the Superphenix has been well documented in France, but it seems to have stayed behind the language barrier. For the next few posts on this blog, I intend to write translations of a few articles from French language media. These provide information about the early days of the Superphenix project, the opposition to it, and the ongoing dismantling that is yet to continue for many years to come.

Translated from an article first published in Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2011.

Ten years for construction, thirty for deconstruction. The Superphenix produced electricity for only eleven years. But the history of the emblem of French nuclear technology is far from being over.

by Christine Bergé, April 2011

Arriving by highway at Creys-Malville, one sees right away the imposing reactor building with its mass of concrete reaching eighty meters high. Installed in a bend of the Rhone, in the middle of the fields and forests of Isere, Superphenix is always a hub of activity. Four hundred people have been working there ever since the announcement of its dismantlement over ten years ago. They perform delicate operations, taking out the vital functions one by one with the aim of reaching its definitive disarmament. The work is set to last another twenty years. It is “the volcano at the port of Lyon,” according to the philosopher Lanza del Vasto, the largest fast breeder reactor in the world. The abandonment of the project was decreed by [president] Lionel Jospin on June 19, 1997, but it still requires the full attention of the engineers of the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA).
The power plant at Creys-Malville is a type of fast neutron reactor, which are different technologically and economically from pressurized water reactors, like those in Flamanville. It became a mythic machine, destined to regenerate its own fuel. Its evoked the fabulous bird that was reborn from its ashes. It also became the focal point of combat for ecologists who opposed nuclear energy.
Construction began in 1976, during the golden age of French nuclear expansion which, at the time, was accompanied by the imagery of the architecture of nuclear power plants. It is flanked by four orange towers and the turbine buildings, while the reactor is like a throne at the center of an industrial park of eighty hectares. Around it the machine rooms were assembled, along with the command center, technical workshops and administrative offices. One can see already the scars of finished operations. On the scaffolding on the walls of the reactor building, men seem miniscule. They are in the process of butchering one of the sluices that allowed the ventilation of the turbines, which prevented leaks in the treatment of five thousand tons of liquid sodium – some of which is still in the reactor vessel.

The heart of a young man

It was the physicist Enrico Fermi who, in 1945, proposed the concept of the fast breeder (1) and launched the global pursuit of this technology. In 1946, the United States constructed Clementine, the first fast neutron reactor, cooled with mercury. Five years later, they succeeded in producing electricity with a second fast neutron reactor, the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR) in Idaho. The British made their attempt in 1955. In 1967, France established the reactor called Rapsodie in Cadarache, as well as two sister reactors, Harmonie and Masurca. The next year the Soviets began work on their BOR-60, then the BN-350 in 1972.
Then the oil shock came. In 1973, France inaugurated Phoenix, a sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor, in Marcoule. The same year, the Germans built a fast breeder, Kalkar (which they abandoned later). In 1974, the UK’s new fast breeder started in Dounreay, Scotland. With its 250 megawatts of electric power, Phoenix symbolized the rise of the mythic perpetual motion machine.
Immediately, they dreamed bigger: the Superphenix project began. It would produce 1,200 MW, five times more than Phoenix. The French created for it a specific club, the NERSA, implying a “Europe of Six”: Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The Americans and Russians, present at the beginning, pulled out of the project. A sister club of NERSA formed in Germany to form the alter ego of Superphenix. But the political ascension of ecologists impeded the birth of this German brother.
The new fast breeder surpassed by far the power of all the others. This step elicited concerns, even among certain engineers within the CEA. The decree of authorization was halted and a showdown ensued (2). Certain engineers preferred a fast breeder of 600 MW, with a lower construction cost.
To comprehend this site, one must also look beyond the barbed wire that demarcated the boundary. Who remembers what happened here thirty years ago? In 1971, the French chapter of Friends of the Earth demanded a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants. Created in 1975, the Malville chapter called an assembly for July 3, 1976. 20,000 people came to protest at the gates of the construction site.
Blocked by security forces, the assembly remained peaceable and calmly dispersed. In April 1976, the journal Science et Vie published an article by a former engineer of Electricité de France (EDF), who wrote, “It is not unreasonable to believe that a grave accident at Superphenix could occur, killing millions of persons.” In effect, the sodium-plutonium cocktail presented undeniable risks.
In 1977, one year after the start of construction, the decree of authorization was given. On July 31, the ecology movement organized a new gathering. It went badly and was severely repressed. It finished with numerous injured, three mutilations and one death: Vital Michalon. It came to be remembered as “The Battle of Malville.”
The same year, antinuclear pressure caused American President Jimmy Carter to cancel the fast breeder project at Clinch River, which was set to be a comparatively modest 400 MW plant. Soon, the history of civil nuclear technology would be inseparable from accidents. In 1979, the plant at Three Mile Island had a serious accident involving a partial meltdown of its core. French ecologists started a petition demanding the cancellation of the Superphenix construction. In 1981, to their great disappointment, the newly elected socialist government decided to keep the project going. The Russians had just launched the most powerful fast breeder reactor of the time, the 600 MW BN-600 [still operating today]. At the same time, a cell of militants led by Chaïm Nissim organized small scale sabotage at Creys-Malville. In 1982, a rocket launcher fired on the reactor building causing minor damage (3).
In 1984, the plant was complete. The reactor vessel and intermediate circuits were filled with sodium. The lifeblood of the phoenix began to circulate in its veins, but it circulated for only eleven years. In 1997, a leftist coalition government of socialists, communists and ecologists signed the death warrant for the Superphenix. The cloud of Chernobyl had passed over France. Some said it was far from being at the end of its life. Disappointed engineers said the plant still had the “heart of a young man.” Only half of its fuel had been consumed.
I will not rehash here the debate over the relative ripeness of the Superphenix. Often stopped because of technical problems and blocked by administrative procedures, the prototype went through numerous experiments. It carried the hope that it would learn to devour minor actinides, the long-lived highly radioactive by-products. Engineers had acquired a lot of know-how. They loved their machine. “The boiler simmered like a casserole,” they said. The outcome seemed to them to be a dream cut short.
Under the nocturnal dome of the reactor building, 80 meters high, the powerful arm of the highest turntable in Europe works to extract the components that used to run the machine. Down below, men work in a brightly lit arena. The closer one approaches, the more one feels the heat of the sodium (180 °C) enclosed in the reactor vessel. The heat from the sodium radiates invisibly, covered by a “sky of argon” – an inert gas that prevents oxidation of the sodium.
It is here that surgical operations of grand dimensions are undertaken. The core of the reactor has already been removed. Hundreds of fuel assemblies are cooled in pools of water sixteen meters deep. Under layers of electric cables, one can see enormous manifolds, pieces of which have been covered in opaque metallic film. These were the arteries of the heat exchangers.
In the turbine rooms, operations have been terminated. On the walls, one perceives traces of the torch burns left by the dismemberment of pipes. Fuchsia colored labels indicate pieces which must be left connected. Others labeled in blue indicate air intake ducts, reminding everyone that the site will be inhabited until the last work is done.
The great phoenix is no longer seated on its immortal pyre. Most of its old organs, cut up in measured pieces, are enclosed in containers destined to join the stock of the national agency for the management of nuclear waste (ANDRA). All that is not irradiated goes into the proper waste stream. The rest has to be decontaminated and treated.
In an integral section of the reactor building, they use a plasma torch to cut away the parts that were immersed in radioactive sodium. Farther away, the ten-thousand-square-meter machine room no longer shelters the turbines. It serves as a revolving storage room for parts coming in and waiting to be shipped off. It also holds the sodium treatment facility, most of which is irradiated. It is a matter of transferring this fluid in very small quantities in a solution of aqueous soda. The mix obtained from this is mixed with cement, calcium chloride and Sodeline, an adjuvant. The process is done slowly because of the inherent risk of sodium, which is both explosive and flammable. In the end, there will be 38,000 blocks of sodium-soaked concrete that will be left on the site until 2035,  in storage areas designed specifically for this purpose. The blocks cannot be removed until their radioactivity has subsided sufficiently.
To protect workers against ionizing radiation, to minimize exposure as much as possible, the site is demarcated into contaminated and uncontaminated areas. Movement within this unstable environment is facilitated by special suits, pressurized air and radiation detection badges. Work is complicated by the fact that dismantling techniques were not thought out beforehand at the time of the plant’s design. Each task is specific, carrying risks that have to be identified on the fly. The skills of the workers are drawn upon to solve problems as they arise. Thus there is an acquired knowledge accumulating about such decommissioning projects. All of this is led by the Center for Engineering, Deconstruction and the Environment.

The Question of Memory

On the site, all ordinary actions benefit from having an important, daily traceability. In addition, events and incidents are recorded by the Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, and this forms a history of the plant from its birth to the conclusion of dismantling. The remnants of the buildings are also a memory. As Estelle Chapalain stresses, “The dismantling of the installation is an implacable revelation of its history and the more or less good practices involved in its exploitation. In terms of radioprotection and work safety, particular attention must be paid to the unforeseen situations that we sometimes find (4).”
The memory of places and actions, as well as know-how: these remain as essential issues. When treated materials are to circulate elsewhere, it is necessary to know where they will go. For example, there are still uncertainties about where the sodium-saturated blocks of concrete will go. What will become of them in thirty years? What about the uranium and plutonium in the storage pools at Creys-Malville? Is EDF reserving the option to use them someday in a new fast neutron reactor? Responding to these questions presupposes that the memory of all that has gone before will be passed on. This means the preservation of all the knowledge and the techniques that exist in the minds of those who took part in the construction. In other words, this knowledge must be saved before these people are dispersed back to nature. Christophe Béhar, the director of nuclear energy at the CEA asks, “Who is going to take over in 2025 for all the retiring engineers?”

Christine Bergé is a philosopher, anthropologist and author of:


(1) Un surgénérateur produit plus de matière fissile qu’il n’en consomme.
(2) Cf. Dominique Finon, L’Echec des surgénérateurs. Autopsie d’un grand programme, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 1989.
(3) Cf. Chaïm Nissim, L’Amour et le monstre. Des roquettes contre Creys-Malville,Favre, Lausanne-Paris, 2004.
(4) Estelle Chapalain, «  Sûreté et radioprotection lors des opérations de démantèlement : les risques principaux  », Contrôle, n° 152, ASN, Paris, 2003.


Sin now, ask forgiveness later

  The Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe has been getting world-wide coverage in the mainstream media for the last two weeks as TEPCO made new “revelations” and “admissions” about the flow of contaminated water coming out of the ruins of the nuclear power plant. Although the situation is newsworthy and TEPCO’s handling of the situation has been outrageous, we have to realize that even after these admissions, the narrative about the situation that they are pushing is still false.
The narrative that has been presented in recent news reports is that the contaminated water was somehow unexpected, and TEPCO were slow in revealing the truth of the situation simply because they were overwhelmed and made errors in judgment recently under the pressure of dealing with a series of surprising events.
In fact, there is nothing surprising at all about this situation. In the early days of the crisis anti-nuclear groups claimed that it was a certainty that reactors 1 to 3 had melted down. TEPCO, the Japanese government and every knowledgeable expert working in the nuclear field knew that they were correct, but in a global unified voice they all refused to “speculate” on the condition of the reactor cores. Two months later, there was official admission that the meltdowns had indeed occurred and no one knew the condition or location of the melted cores. The apologies were made for regrettably bad decisions made under pressure, but in fact the delay was deliberate and pre-meditated. It was an instance of acting on the proverbial wisdom of not asking for permission but rather doing what you want to do now and asking for forgiveness later.
The water problem was well understood at the time as well. Critics like nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen have raised the issue repeatedly. In this video from April 2011, nuclear industry critic Chris Busby stated the inevitability of it “all going to the sea.” The cores melt, pieces of them stay in the ruins of the reactor and/or some pieces of them melt into the ground, but they are all fissioning and hot for a long, long time, so they have to be constantly cooled by water, and that water has to go back to the ocean. TEPCO has tried to filter out most of the contaminants, but it is not possible to filter out radioactive isotopes of hydrogen (tritium) which has become tritiated water. You can’t easily separate so much tritiated water from normal water. (Canadian nuclear operators have some expertise in this area, but they handle fresh water, and smaller volumes than what TEPCO has on its hands). So they tried storing the water in hastily built tanks, but it has become obvious recently the number of tanks needed will far exceed what is practically possible.
The regulatory limits, the fear of angering fishermen and the public, and the need to save the reputation of the nuclear industry have all prevented the Japanese government from taking the action which will eventually be necessary. As Dr. Busby said two years ago, “It all goes into the sea.” What we have had is two and half years of crisis management and crafting of a narrative that the situation has been stabilized – put in “cold shutdown” – but now we get the admission of an “unexpected” change in circumstances and many bowed heads and deep apologies. What we are not being told is that all of this is another piece of the pre-meditated theater, just like the apology for not reporting the fact of the meltdowns when it was known. From the beginning, every nuclear expert in the world knew that it all goes to the sea.
Strangely enough, it turns out that even Dr. Busby, who is well known for accusing the nuclear industry of downplaying the health effects of radiation, agrees that the contamination that is flowing out of Fukushima Daiichi is not going to present much risk for people on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In his recent article published in Russia Today he wrote:

… the Pacific Ocean is big enough for this level of release not to represent the global catastrophe that some are predicting… So the people in California can relax. In fact, the contamination of California and indeed the rest of the planet from the global weapons test fallout of 1959-1962 [sic 1945-62? or 1954-62 if these dates refer to only hydrogen megaton bombs?] was far worse, and resulted in the cancer epidemic which began in 1980. The atmospheric megaton explosions drove the radioactivity into the stratosphere and the rain brought it back to earth to get into the milk, the food, the air, and our children’s bones. Kennedy and Khrushchev called a halt in 1963, saving millions.

So if this is the case, why all the apparent guilt and regret now about having to dump contaminated water into the sea? If it is inevitable, why not just get on with it. Delays are only worsening the situation. For example, by trying to hold back the water behind a constructed barrier, TEPCO has raised serious concerns that the ground will be softened and structures will be less likely to withstand earthquakes. What is to regret here is that the catastrophe ever happened at all. There is no use now in worrying about offending fishermen or outraging the public. The outcome of it all going to the sea was achieved the day the meltdowns happened.
The truly regrettable aspect of the situation is the denial of reality and the creation of the distorted narrative that was set up to protect the fortunes of the global nuclear industry. TEPCO and the national government are presently uttering staged apologies for a pre-meditated delayed release of information. They knew two years ago that this day would come when they would have to talk about the water problem, but they consciously planned to lie low and lie at that time, then confess and ask for forgiveness later. It is all a part of the crisis management plan, which is not so much to manage the crisis per se but to manage the damage to the fortunes of the nuclear industry. For the past thirty months Japan has preferred to forget the catastrophe and carry on with plans to sell billions in nuclear technology to India, Turkey and Vietnam.
In his editorial, Dr. Busby went on to discuss what he perceives to be the real danger that Japanese officials should be talking about honestly with their citizens. Unfortunately, the advice is to not breathe within one kilometer of the shoreline, 200 kilometers north and south of Fukushima Daiichi. The establishment of such an exclusion zone would be an unacceptable blow to the reputation of nuclear energy, and to the preferred narrative of Prime Minister Abe that the nation is fit to host the 2020 Olympics and "Japan is back" - back from what or to what, no one knows. So people who breathe the sea breeze on a daily basis are not likely to get a warning. I finish with another excerpt from Dr. Busby's editorial:

What we have here in Fukushima is more local, but still very deadly and certainly worse than Chernobyl since the populations are so large. And this brings me to my second point, and a warning to the Japanese people. The contamination of the sea results in adsorption* of the radionuclides by the sand and silt on the coast and river estuaries. The east coast of Japan, the sediment and sand on the shores, will now be horribly radioactive. This material is re-suspended into the air through a process called sea-to-land transfer. The coastal air they inhale is laden with radioactive particles. I know about this since I was asked in 1998 by the Irish State to carry out a two-year study of the cancer effects of releases into the Irish Sea by the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield… Results showed a remarkable and sharp 30 per cent increase in cancer rates in those living within 1km of the coast. The effect was very local and dropped away sharply at 2km. In trying to discover the cause, we came across measurements made by the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Using special cloth filters, they had measured Plutonium in the air by distance from the contaminated coast. The trend was the same as the cancer trend, increasing sharply in the 1km strip near the coast… By 2003, we had found 20-fold excess risk of leukemia and brain tumors in the population of children on the north Wales coast… the sea-to-land effect is real. And anyone living within 1km of the coast to at least 200km north or south of Fukushima should get out. They should evacuate inland. It is not eating the fish and shellfish that gets you - it’s breathing.

Christopher Busby. “Pump and pray: Tepco might have to pour water on Fukushima wreckage forever.” Russia Today, August 7, 2013.

* This is not a misspelling of absorption
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. This process differs from absorption, in which a fluid (the absorbate) permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid (the absorbent). Note that adsorption is a surface-based process while absorption involves the whole volume of the material. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while desorption is the reverse of adsorption. It is a surface phenomenon.


Meet the Anti-Nuclear Pro-Nuclear Crowd

     The anti-nuclear movement focuses primarily on its familiar battle with the nuclear infrastructure that was built in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The traditional foe, however, is dying a slow, natural death due to financial constraints. The real battle shaping up is being fought over the question of whether it is wise to invest now in a new generation of nuclear technology (now referred to in PR campaign as “Nuclear Power 2.0”) based on fast breeder technology and/or small modular reactors.
What few people realize is that the proponents of the new technology are, in the traditional sense, passionately anti-nuclear. The promotion of their plans requires them to admit that Nuclear Power 1.0 was just as dirty and dangerous as opponents always said it was. For their marketing pitch, the proponents of the new reactors claim exactly what anti-nukers have been saying for decades. They now claim that the new reactors will solve all the existing problems. The old reactors haven’t changed at all, so it’s ironic that this transformation in perceptions of the safety of Nuclear Power 1.0 came about only when there was an alternative on the horizon.
So it turns out that that uranium supplies are in fact limited, and mining uranium is dangerous, so we have to invest in the closed fuel cycle technology that will give us a perpetual supply of energy from nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is a weapons proliferation hazard, so we need the close the fuel cycle to “burn up” the plutonium that we have failed to dispose of below ground. The new designs have passive safety features, and they reduce the need to transfer and transport hazardous nuclear materials. When they shut down, they cool off safely without need of human intervention. It all sounds too good to be true, and indeed it probably is.
Detroit, the city that once represented the preeminence of American industry, is bankrupt. As the news about this sad state of affairs had the world’s attention recently, the city attracted an interesting offer of rescue. Like a pimp on the prowl for hungry young girls with self-esteem issues, a little-known company named American Atomics hit on Detroit, not prosperous Seattle or San Jose, with a stunning offer of 100,000 jobs, cheap energy, and billions of dollars of manufacturing investment. Highlights of the press release published by PRWeb:

American Atomics is presenting a plan to community leaders in Detroit, Michigan, offering to locate the company's new factory and other operations in that economically strapped city. The plan, claimed to generate between 500,000 and 1 million new jobs in Detroit over the next 10 years, includes building the world's largest factory, as well as guaranteeing to supply Detroit with electricity at a flat rate of 2¢ per kilowatt-hour for both businesses and residences, beginning in 5 years.

Mutual Benefits

·      zero to 100,000 manufacturing workers within a 24 month period
·      job training programs beginning the summer of 2017
·      August 1, 2018 factory opening
·      our ideal site is one that's surrounded by that many unemployed or underemployed workers

Detroit's vast, semi-vacant condition is a near-ideal fit for our unusual requirements.

high points include:

·      an 8 million square-foot factory
·      a 600,000 square-foot headquarters campus
·      a 1,600 acre or larger industrial park for suppliers

Accommodations sought by the company:

·      help in identifying appropriate sites to purchase
·      delivery of city services without undue administrative burdens
·      cooperation from Detroit Edison in replacing the local electricity supply with that from new HOPE 40 power plants
·      American Atomics has stated that it will pay all costs involved, including all infrastructure improvement costs and the costs of increased city services, and that it expects to pay its fair business taxes.

"The price of electricity is an under-appreciated input cost to virtually all human activities," says Tom Blees, president of the non-profit SCGI group of nuclear reactor scientists.

The level of cost reduction being discussed here would have an extraordinary impact on business choices where electricity is a proportionately high input cost.

Chief Reactor Engineer says, "The technology we are implementing in the HOPE 40 power plant is derived from over fifty years of development in the Department of Energy laboratories. HOPE 40 combines safety and simplicity in a low cost, truly mass-produceable commercial product for the world market. Nothing could make a clearer statement about the future of advanced nuclear power than to apply it to rejuvenating such a great, historic city as Detroit."

"We demonstrated the safety of the fast reactor with our IFR project at Argonne in 1986," says Dr. George Stanford, a retired nuclear reactor physicist, and a member of the team that developed the fast reactor at Argonne National Laboratory. Commercialization of fast-reactor technology is long overdue. To see it put to such good use will be a real pleasure."

American Atomics seeks to discuss the specifics of its proposed commitment to Detroit with the city's government and business leaders, and to get the process of implementation underway as quickly as possible.
"Our timetable is already in motion around a different site location," says Campbell. "So, to make this work, we'll need swift cooperation with Detroit's leaders."

The city government and business leaders must have been skeptical about an offer that promised so much because within a short time their rejection was tersely noted on the American Atomics blog, without any mention of Detroit’s reasons, other than space limitations.

We have been in discussions this past week with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Management group regarding locating our factory and headquarters in Detroit, per our recent public offer to do so — starting with identifying appropriate sites within the Detroit city limits. Unfortunately for all parties it seems that there simply isn’t a site near the size we require anywhere in the city. Nothing even close.

It is easy to imagine some of the concerns the city might have had. The promise of thousands of jobs and economic revitalization is by no means a sure thing. In order for this rosy projection to come true, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to approve a massive expansion of this new technology, and municipal, state and national voting constituencies would have to fall in love with this new promise of nuclear energy. But the promise of cheap electricity has been made before, and it never came true. More importantly, the proposal from American Atomics pretended that Detroit hadn’t already had experience with a nearly catastrophic accident at the Fermi 1 fast breeder reactor in 1966.
The comical aspect of the proposal is that the wonks who put it together were rather clueless in the art of seduction. If you’re trying to convince the purported object of your faithful affection of your “commitment to Detroit,” that she’s special and unique, you don’t try to close the deal by saying you need to “… get the process of implementation underway as quickly as possible… timetable is already in motion around a different site location.” Such charm.
The “demonstrated safety” of the IFR project mentioned above refers to the fast breeder reactor program that was shut down in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. People involved with the program have protested ever since that this was a tragic decision driven, apparently, by poorly informed politics and an obsession with budget-cutting. According to this narrative, it deprived the nation of a technology that could have solved the energy crisis and dependence on foreign oil.
Now that global warming is acknowledged as a more urgent problem, there are several private investment initiatives working to bring the technology back. They seem to prefer a stealthy PR campaign, deliberately avoiding being a front page news item. They can be seen establishing a beachhead at places like the TED Conference where they have announced their ambitions among the technocratic elite. Web searches for “Argonne Laboratory” or “Integral Fast Breeder Reactor” will produce dozens of blogs and journal articles lamenting the US government's tragic rejection of fast breeder technology.
These articles describe the advantages and successes of the IFR program, but they mysteriously omit discussion of the reasons that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Department of Energy and Congress all agreed to close it down. Rather than addressing these reasons and providing a counter-argument, these proponents would like readers to believe that the program was canceled for no good reason at all – supposedly just because of short-sighted, scientifically illiterate politics. One has to search more persistently to find analyses that explain the legitimate reasons for ending the program.
The Integral Fast Breeder Reactor did prove itself to be safer in some respects than first generation “once-through” (no re-use of fuel) reactor technology. It has better passive safety features and requires less handling of radioactive materials. It is less of a weapons proliferation risk, but the risk is not nearly eliminated. It withdraws energy from existing nuclear waste or decommissioned weapons, but there would still be a socially and technically complex waste management problem to deal with after this initial “burn-up.”
In spite of some advantages, there is a terrible record of failures in fast breeder technology that its proponents don't like to discuss. Fast breeder reactors failed in three different projects in the US (EBR 1 in Idaho in 1955, Santa Susana in suburban Los Angeles in 1959, and Fermi 1 near Detroit in 1966 all had partial meltdowns), at the Superphénix reactor in France, and at the Monju reactor in Japan. The Santa Susana accident is notable because it was a meltdown that released more radiation than Three Mile Island. It was covered up until the 1970s, and the contamination in the area is still being dealt with. The accident in Detroit was a fire in the sodium coolant that nearly caused a catastrophic meltdown. It was the subject of a book and a soul song both entitled We Almost Lost Detroit.
These failures are what make fast breeder technology politically toxic. An informed public would never support the expenditures necessary, and private investors will not put their money down if they cannot be sure of public, regulatory and political support. The only type of person willing to invest in this dream is a person like Bill Gates (investor in Terra Power), someone with an enormous personal fortune that he is not particularly attached to. He is willing to part with it in the pursuit of a world-changing vision. History shows that such people on a mission, the true believers, can be more dangerous than the pragmatic realists who care most about holding onto their power and fortunes.
In addition to the record of expensive and dangerous failures, there are more serious problems with the long-term management of the proposed infrastructure. For there to be any hope at all of “burning up,” rather than burying, existing nuclear waste, a large fleet of fast breeder reactors would have to operate for over a century. In contrast, permanent burial of waste could be achieved in the short-term, by the generation that produced it, but proponents of fast breeder technology prefer to believe that their complex technology and the social organizations needed to manage it can be established and maintained long into the future. If the vision falters or is abandoned in a few decades, we will have lost an opportunity take responsibility for permanent disposal of nuclear waste created in our time.
More detailed discussion of these problems is cited below in two reports, one by The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the other by The Union of Concerned Scientists.

From a fact sheet published jointly by The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility:

Of the various types of proposed SMRs, liq­uid metal fast reactor designs pose particular safety concerns. Sodium leaks and fires have been a central problem — sodium explodes on contact with water and burns on contact with air. Sodium-potassium coolant, while it has the advantage of a lower melting point than sodium, presents even greater safety issues, because it is even more flammable than molten sodium alone. Sodium-cooled fast reactors have shown essentially no posi­tive learning curve (i.e., experience has not made them more reliable, safer, or cheaper). The world’s first nuclear reactor to generate electricity, the EBR I in Idaho, was a sodium-potassium-cooled reactor that suffered a partial meltdown. EBR II, which was sodium-cooled reactor, operated reasonably well, but the first US commercial prototype, Fermi I in Michigan had a meltdown of two fuel assem­blies and, after four years of repair, a sodium explosion.  The most recent commercial prototype, Monju in Japan, had a sodium fire 18 months after its commissioning in 1994, which resulted in it being shut down for over 14 years. The French Superphénix, the largest sodium-cooled reactor ever built, was designed to demonstrate commercialization. Instead, it operated at an average of less than 7 percent capacity factor over 14 years before being permanently shut.

The cost picture for sodium-cooled reac­tors is also rather grim. They have typically been much more expensive to build than light water reactors, which are currently estimated to cost between $6,000 and $10,000 per kilowatt in the US. The costs of the last three large breeder reactors have varied wild­ly. In 2008 dollars, the cost of the Japanese Monju reactor (the most recent) was $27,600 per kilowatt (electrical); French Superphénix (start up in 1985) was $6,300; and the Fast Flux Test Facility (startup in 1980) at Hanford was $13,800. This gives an average cost per kilowatt in 2008 dollars of about $16,000, without taking into account the fact that cost escalation for nuclear reactors has been much faster than inflation. In other words, while there is no recent US experience with construction of sodium-cooled reactors, one can infer that (i) they are likely to be far more expensive than light water reactors, (ii) the financial risk of building them will be much greater than with light water reactors due to high variation in cost from one project to another and the high variation in capacity fac­tors that might be expected. Even at the lower end of the capital costs, for Superphénix, the cost of power generation was extremely high — well over a dollar per kWh since it operated so little. Monju, despite being the most expensive has generated essentially no electricity since it was commissioned in 1994.

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research has just published another report on various light water (not fast breeder) small modular reactors now seeking investors and government approval. This report lists many of the same shortcomings that are found in the fast breeder SMR proposals: proliferation risks, the difficulty of inspecting and managing a larger number of reactors over a wider area, waste management problems, and the lack of interest from investors who would be willing to establish the technology at the necessary economies of scale.

… the DOE study… charges the direct-disposal scenario with the full cost of 12 large geologic repositories, but does not charge the GNEP [Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, an initiative of the Bush administration which was “intended to support a safe, secure and sustainable expansion of nuclear energy”] scenario with the cost of disposing of the 51 percent of the actinide inventory that remains in the fuel cycle. The DOE also assumes that 100 years from now, institutions will be in place to ensure that the GNEP system will remain fully functional. Without that guarantee, there can be no assurance that the remaining heat-bearing actinides could be managed safely. And the only way to provide such assurance would be to dispose of those elements in six geologic repositories. This would cost another several hundred billion dollars—for a total cost of more than $1 trillion (undiscounted) for the GNEP option, compared with direct disposal. This last challenge underscores the fact that the GNEP proposal does not satisfy a fundamental ethical principle for the disposal of nuclear waste: intergenerational equity. This principle can be summarized as follows:

·      The liabilities of waste management should be considered when undertaking new projects.
·      Those who generate the wastes should take responsibility, and provide the resources, for managing these materials in a way that will not impose undue burdens on future generations.
·      Wastes should be managed in a way that secures an acceptable level of protection for human health and the environment, and affords to future generations at least the level of safety acceptable today.
·      A waste management strategy should not assume a stable social structure in the indefinite future, nor technological advances. Rather, it should aim to bequeath a passively safe situation: that is, one that does not rely on active institutional controls to maintain safety and security.

Direct disposal of spent fuel in a geologic repository that can contain the waste without active intervention is the epitome of a system that meets the principle of intergenerational equity. Although such a repository has not yet been licensed, the scientific consensus is that it is feasible. In contrast, GNEP requires a complex system of dangerous facilities that must be operated and repeatedly rebuilt for centuries. These facilities include those that allow aboveground “decay storage” of short-lived fission products, and a host of added facilities needed to reprocess and fission highly radioactive actinides. [Emphasis added]. This system clearly fails to meet fundamental criteria for responsible waste management.

The United States should eliminate its programs to develop and deploy fast reactors.

This report, published in 2007, may have had some influence in the subsequent decision, reported by World Nuclear News, that the US Department of Energy planned to halt the GNEP programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) because “it is no longer pursuing domestic commercial reprocessing.” The GNEP budget was cut to zero in 2009, but still the DoE wanted to “continue to study proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and waste management strategies” with other sources of funding. The WNN report cited a panel of the US National Academy of Sciences which concluded “commercial-scale reprocessing facilities envisaged under GNEP were not economically justifiable.” With this history of unfavorable government decisions, it is hard to comprehend why organizations like American Atomics are speaking of a large-scale rebirth of American industry based on an imagined renaissance called Nuclear Power 2.0.


Fuller, John G. We Almost Lost Detroit. Ballantyne, 1976.
Gronlund, Lisbeth, Lochbaum, David and Lyman, Edwin. “Evaluating New Nuclear Reactor Designs,” in Nuclear Power in a Warming World. Union of Concerned Scientists, 53-79, 2007.
Makhijani, Arjun and Boyd, Michelle. “Small Modular Reactors: No Solution for the Cost, Safety and Waste Problems of Nuclear Power.” Fact sheet published jointly by The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility, September 2010.
Makhijani, Arjun. Light Water Designs of Small Modular Reactors: Facts and Analysis. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, August 2013.
Mangano, Joseph, Sherman, Janette D. “The Legacy of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.” Counterpunch, August 5, 2013.
World Nuclear News. Fatal Blow to GNEP? June 29, 2009.
More information about American Atomics: